Count me among the cynics whose cold shoulders shrugged upon learning that golf-swing guru Hank Haney planned to write a book about former pupil Tiger Woods.
More lurid details about Tiger as the serial romancer who seduced porn stars and pancake-house waitresses? No, thanks. I’ve heard all about it. At some point, he, and we, need to move on.
More analysis of the wiring between Tiger’s ears? The one-time child prodigy who grew up to become the greatest golfer in the world is a complicated, complex dude. I get it. Next time I’m stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for seven months, I hope Tiger Woods isn’t the only other person on the life raft.
But Haney’s book, “The Big Miss,” scheduled for release March 27 – a week before The Masters – contains information that is relevant for anybody wondering how the career of an unlimited talent went south during its prime.
Haney suggests it wasn’t domestic turmoil that derailed Woods but, rather, a preposterous fixation with soldiering.
Instead of putting all of his energy into the pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories, Woods, who has won 14 majors, apparently considered the possibility of leaving the PGA Tour for a different kind of tour.
A tour of duty with the Navy SEALs.
“What about Nicklaus’ record? Don’t you care about that?” Haney recalls asking Woods.
“No,” Woods replied. “I’m satisfied with what I’ve done in my career.”
Haney writes that Woods executed as many as 10 parachute drops a day while training for “self-defense urban warfare.”
Haney wondered about the maximum-age restriction – it’s 28 – the Navy SEALs place on candidates.
“It’s not a problem,” said Woods, who turned 28 in 2003. “They’re making a special age exemption for me.”
Just as I was convinced I needed no more insight into this strange cookie – just as I was ready to turn the page – Haney is compelling me to read from the top of Chapter 1.
Woods’ affinity for the military is no secret: His father, who died in 2006, retired as a lieutenant colonel after serving two tours in Vietnam with the Green Berets. Haney’s revelation, which had been a secret, is that Woods likely suffered damage to his already gimpy left knee while participating with the SEALs in a California kill house drill that simulated urban combat.
Haney bases his speculation on a conversation he had with a woman who approached the coach at a golf event in Minnesota. Her husband was a Navy SEAL, she told Haney, and was there when Woods re-injured his knee at the kill house.
“He got hit pretty hard in the leg,” Haney was told, “and I think he hurt his knee pretty bad.”
That conversation was corroborated by Woods’ friend Corey Carroll.
“My immediate thought upon hearing Corey’s account, which so closely paralleled that of the woman in Minneapolis, was that it was true,” Haney writes, “and if so, it meant that if Tiger never catches Jack Nicklaus, it will likely have as much to do with the time and physical capacity he lost as a result of his bizarre Navy SEALs adventure as anything else.”
Woods, who’d already endured three surgeries on his left knee, suffered a complete tear of the ligaments in 2007. He relied on weightlifting to facilitate the recuperation.
Those weight training exercises – too strenuous, Haney believes, for any golfer – led to Woods hurting his right Achilles tendon.
Obvious question: Is this any of our business?
After all, participating in high-risk combat drills is not illegal, immoral or unethical. What it is, though, is seven degrees kind of stupid.
So yes, I think it is our business if some of Tiger Woods’ physical problems can be traced to the apparent accident at the kill house. I think it is our business if a dingbat civilian’s desire to play war was approved by dingbat commanders.
Woods was 31 when he trained with the SEALs in 2007. He was the planet’s most marketable athlete. The odds of him retiring from golf to enlist in the Navy were longer than the odds of him retiring from golf to enroll in divinity school.
Unlike the late Pat Tillman, who in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks quit the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army Rangers, Woods’ motivation to simulate combat with the SEALs wasn’t steeped in selfless patriotism.
He did it for fun. He did it for the rush of shooting a rubber bullet at a moving target. Preparing for battle was nothing more than another kind of game for a golfer who’d conquered almost everything there was to conquer in his lonely, mixed-up world.
But war is not a game, and war is not a toy.
If all Tiger Woods suffered from his “combat” experience was a bum knee that deprives him of overtaking Jack Nicklaus in the record books, he should consider himself fortunate.
He’s able to see. He’s able to walk. He’s able to breathe.